We’re living in a pulse elevating moment. It is not mere political hyperbole to call this a turning point for western civilization. The imminent Presidential/Vice Presidential election offers nominees with a remarkable diversity of origins and self-understanding. Those ultimately chosen to lead us will confront issues demanding insight, humility and wisdom like never before.
To consider some qualities needed to lead, let’s take a look at just one circumscribed aspect of a single issue, the education of young children. I am presuming that it is an issue about which readers of Scholastic blogs share a keen interest. We may not agree about the steps needed to spur kids on to academic success, about what qualities and characteristics, skills and knowledge, will propel them forward and which are likely to leave them behind. But we are all hoping to aim them in the same direction—FORWARD.
Decision makers about how to go about this are not, for the most part, experts in either education or child development. Many, like the current Mayor of NYC, are gifted political leaders and some, like him, have had highly successful earlier careers, in his case, as an entrepreneur. The self confidence that allows a would be entrepreneur to take big risks and the ultimate realization of financial success beyond even his own wildest dreams may contribute to his certainty about how to predict academic success/failure. He is absolutely certain and determined to begin formal testing in reading and math in the kindergarten through 2nd grade, rather than waiting until third grade.
Principals in city elementary schools are being urged to enter their youngest kids in a pilot program using standardized pencil and paper tests which last between an hour and 90 minutes. Up until now, kids ages 5-7 have been assessed for literacy on an individual basis by their teachers. One harsh critic of the proposed change, Jane Hirschmann, quoted in the New York Times, pronounced the proposed pilot program “’criminal behavior’”, slamming the Mayor’s administration for what she called its commitment to “’turning curriculum into a testing regime’”.
In my view, the Mayor is doing what he thinks is best and doing so in good faith. But it hasn’t occurred to him to bring in experts in child development and early childhood education who would point out the fact that few children this young, no matter how literate or math skilled, can be expected to stay focused on a standardized pencil and paper test for up to one hour and a half.
In fact, the about to be discarded method of individual teacher assessments combined with the teacher’s familiarity with each child’s every day performance are the best predictors of the learning potential and skills of children this young. (Yes, that does take more time, but what good is a quick, but unreliable measure?)
No one who represents the position of the National Association of the Education of Young Children would consider standardized paper and pencil testing of K-2 children to be developmentally appropriate. But make no mistake about it: the leaders of NAEYC and the overwhelming majority of its close to 100,000 members are supportive of Learning Standards, those which are truly developmentally appropriate. Details about this will follow in my next blog along with a further plea for exercising emotional intelligence and humility in governing all the people, no matter how young, at such a critical time.